I’ve been enjoying the On Character series that NPR did over the summer, but the only one that spurred me to read anything was the entry about Charlotte A. Cavatica. So I checked out the 50th anniversary edition of E.B. White’s reading of Charlotte’s Web, and spent a few afternoons rediscovering this old favorite.
White’s dry, even tone lends an air of authority to this quiet farm setting. The book is filled with simple, understated descriptions. Oddly enough, my favorite description was Zuckerman’s dump. There’s a lovely rhythm and variation to it that I admire.
…an astonishing pile of old bottles and empty tin cans and dirty rags and bits of metal and broken bottles and broken hinges and broken springs and dead batteries and last month’s magazines and old discarded dishmops and tattered overalls and rusty spikes and leaky pails and forgotten stoppers and useless junk of all kinds, including a wrong-size crank for a broken ice cream freezer.
I vaguely remembered that Fern saves Wilbur in the first chapter, but forgotten how Fern drifts out of Wilbur’s story. I had forgotten how funny it could be. Sometimes the humor is subtle, like when Fern’s mother is the one who immediately sees that the “miracle” is the spider, but the men stubbornly insist on seeing the miracle as the pig. Sometimes it’s slapstick, like when Fern’s cousin Avery breaks the rotten goose egg.
I remembered, of course, that Charlotte dies, but forgotten that she dies alone. No wonder no one can read that passage without breaking down!
I loved the scene where Wilbur watches in horrified fascination as she captures a fly and tells him she’s going to drink its blood. The scene where she decides what kind of silk to use to write the words (excerpted here ) is a great example of using your research to tell the story, instead of forcing True Spider Facts on the reader. And the scene I remembered most vividly from my first readings all those years ago is the 514 baby spiders drifting away under their silk balloons. In short, I love Charlotte because she is so much like a real spider. I wonder now if I got some of my love for bugs from this story.
They called Charlotte “bloodthirsty, wise, and true.” I call this book gentle, unflinching, and true.